The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Dan Machin

BIRM­ING­HAM boss Gary Rowett cred­ited his side’s fear­less­ness for the mar­gin of their vic­tory over Read­ing, and you cer­tainly couldn’t ac­cuse De­marai Gray of play­ing with the weight of the world on his shoul­ders.

The 18-year-old, with just two goals in his first 25 games for the Blues, hit a stun­ning hat-trick in 34 first-half min­utes to ef­fec­tively put the game beyond a dis­jointed Roy­als out­fit who had chances but were cut apart at the back in a woe­ful de­fen­sive per­for­mance.

After Paul Cad­dis put Birm­ing­ham on their way in the fourth minute with a sweet fin­ish from the edge of the box, it was the Gray show, the winger show­ing the full range of his skills to put the home side 4-1 up at the break de­spite Glenn Mur­ray’s header mid­way through the pe­riod.

“We’ve took vir­tu­ally ev­ery chance we’ve had,” said an en­thu­si­as­tic Rowett, as his side bounced back from their sole de­feat so far un­der his stew­ard­ship last time out at Black­pool.

“We ex­ploited the spa­ces re­ally, re­ally well. Some of our counter-at­tack­ing foot­ball was ab­so­lutely bril­liant.

“The pleas­ing thing for me is that we got back to our de­fen­sive shape, that strong shape, and played as a team. If we get that and teams have the ball against us, I don’t mind be­cause it leaves spa­ces when we win it back.

“De­marai’s fin­ish­ing was clin­i­cal. For him to score three in one game is ab­so­lutely bril­liant.

“But he also put a shift in. He tracked back and helped his full­back out. It was a re­ally good per­for­mance from him – as it was from the whole team.

“The play­ers are en­joy­ing them­selves and play­ing with a lack of fear. We didn’t show any fear fol­low­ing the de­feat at Black­pool. Ob­vi­ously the early goals helped, but I was im­pressed and pleased with the way the play­ers han­dled the game.

“They showed some real at­tack­ing flair and at­tack­ing abil­ity, and I don’t think you can do that with fear.”

Cad­dis opened the scor­ing with a neat strike after a short free-kick from Jonathan Grounds.

Gray then added his first of the af­ter­noon, driv­ing at the back four be­fore pow­er­ing a shot past Adam Fed­erici.

Mur­ray briefly gave Read­ing hope on 19 min­utes when he headed Jor­dan Obita’s cross from the left into the net, but Gray then weaved be­tween two mark­ers be­fore slot­ting the ball past Fed­erici as he came off his line.

And the Eng­land Un­der-19 in­ter­na­tional made it 4-1 in firsthalf stop­page time when he fin­ished off a swift counter-at­tack by knock­ing home a ball from David Davies.

It was all Birm­ing­ham after the break, Andy Shin­nie jink­ing in from the right and ham­mer­ing a shot into the bot­tom cor­ner.

Clayton Donaldson was then de­nied by Fed­erici be­fore al­low­ing a David Cot­ter­ill free-kick to evade him and creep into the far cor­ner of the net, to round off a mis­er­able day for the vis­i­tors for whom Mur­ray rat­tled the bar late on.

“Credit to Birm­ing­ham,” con­ceded Read­ing man­ager Nigel Ad­kins.“They’ve had a chal­leng­ing sea­son, so to get the re­sult they have is all credit to them for turn­ing it round.

“Goals change the com­plex­ion of games.We came here to be pos­i­tive. Ran­dolph has made a cou­ple of good saves early doors. But Birm­ing­ham were clin­i­cal in front of goal. It’s a very dis­ap­point­ing day for us.

“Our heads didn’t drop. The young play­ers in the team will gain valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence from this. I think we might have even had more chances than Birm­ing­ham, but it’s all about the score. Our goals against record is there for all to see.

“All teams have in­juries. But I’m not go­ing to hide be­hind them.We put a team out that we thought would win us the game.”

PIC­TURE: Me­dia Im­age Ltd

HAT-TRICK HERO: De­marai Gray is con­grat­u­lated by An­drew Shin­nie In­set: Gray scores his sec­ond


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